John Willis’ Screen World!

September 19, 2008

I haven’t seen any movies lately that I wanted to blog about. But in working on other projects, I came across a book I had lying around that I really love: SCREEN WORLD – John Willis’ 1974 Film Annual.

The bookstore I bought it from (years ago now) had several old copies, an entire collection from the sixties and seventies, but I could only afford a couple at the time, so I purchased a copy of “Screen World” and a copy of “Theater World”. Of course when I went back to buy the rest, somebody had scooped them all up. I’ve misplaced that copy of John Willis’ “Theater World” and I can’t remember the year it was published, but I do remember a picture of Clarence Williams III in an off Broadway play in it, so I’m thinking late sixties early seventies.

Anyway, these annuals have great photos in them, and since I don’t have any movies that are inspiring me to write about, I think I’ll post some of these great images instead.

This particular issue was dedicated to Joan Crawford for some reason.

I remember being struck by this page of a movie called “Pay Day”. It’s got a striking looking Rip Torn in it. Never heard of the movie.

There’s also a series of photos labeled: Promising Personalities of 1973. What happened to these people?

I was also struck by the obituary section. A number of big stars, producers and directors died in 1973.

Joe E. Brown

Lon Chaney, Jr.

Noel Coward

Bobby Darin

John Ford

Arthur Freed

Betty Grable

Laurence Harvey

Arthur P. Jacobs

Sam Katzman

Veronica Lake

Bruce Lee

Jack MacGowran

Edward G. Robinson

Robert Ryan

Also mentioned:

Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castevetes from Rosemary’s Baby)

Diana Sands (A Raisin In The sun)

More photos to come!


Isaac Hayes: 1942-2008

August 11, 2008

To one of the baddest MoFo’s to ever walk the planet. R.I.P. Mr. Hayes.


The Dark Knight

July 29, 2008

The Dark Knight [2008] 3 and a half

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Dir. Christopher Nolan

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The first post Grumpy Guy put up on this site was THIS ONE, breaking down why the Batman series had failed overall, unwilling to completely commit to the vision of Batman that Frank Miller created, while at the same time, unwilling to completely let go of the past. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins created a neo-realistic world that embraced its Graphic Novel roots, but failed to create a compelling Bruce Wayne or Batman. Like the other films, the art direction triumphed over character. With The Dark Knight, Nolan has said: Fuck it. Let’s go all the way with this. The Dark Knight succeeds where the other Batman films have failed, in that it is rich with character. It is the characters, not the FX or art direction that is the important thing, the most fascinating and entertaining of which is Heath Ledger’s Joker.

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The early reviews of the film often mentioned Joker’s “pencil trick”. Without having seen the film, I could guess what it probably was going to be like. But I was wrong. I was still surprised by the moment, even a little shocked. It was one of those: “Did he just do that?” moments. It was brilliant, not only for the character of the Joker, showing everyone who’s boss, but for Nolan, telling his audience what they were in store for. This Joker is a true movie villain. True movie villains don’t fuck around. They mean business. A true movie villain kills at a whim, is dangerous and unpredictable. Everyone needs to watch their ass around a true movie villain, including the audience. This is what really makes The Dark Knight work so well, the dangerous, unpredictable performance of Ledger… or is it Joker? The Joker is a frightening character, not only in looks, but in action, which makes for an entertaining flick.

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Nolan still hasn’t conquered the task of making Wayne/Batman an interesting character, once again relying on the villains, extra characters and their subplots to carry the show. This time out it doesn’t matter. The overall story arc is somewhat incidental to the sheer suspense of watching Joker do his thing and wondering what’s he’s going to do next.

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The Dark Knight not only breaks the mold of the Batman series, it breaks the mold of the “comic book movie”. Iron Man balanced, with humor and intelligence, audience and studio expectations of what the “family friendly blockbuster” should be like, as did The Incredible Hulk. They basically followed the Spider-Man mold… make it fun and exciting, but safe for mom, dad, junior and little sis. The Dark Knight isn’t family friendly. It isn’t safe. After five attempts at bringing the cape crusader to the screen, balancing Frank Miller’s Batman with everything that came before it, Nolan has successfully tipped the scale in Miller’s direction. The place it needed to be.

There have been a thousand reviews of The Dark Knight, mostly praising it. For some alternate insights on the film, check out Sunset Gun breaking down why Joker’s homicidal anarchy is so contagious. And Badazz Mofo breaks down who would have played The Dark Knight back in the day.


Blast of Silence

July 15, 2008

Blast of Silence [1961]
Starring: Allen Baron, Larry Tucker, Molly McCarthy
Dir. Allen Baron

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I’ve become incredibly jaded about film over the past decade. It’s like I had this great love affair that lasted twenty years and then the magic somehow wore off. I know a lot of it has to do with my age. Hollywood makes movies for kids. Transformers. Hulk. Iron Man. So the movies aren’t that good and like an old grandpa I complain about the cost of admission. And don’t even get me started on concessions. Four dollars for a bottle of water! How stupid do they think I am?

So of course I turn to DVD’s and rediscover the movies that made me fall in love with that nasty mistress in the first place. And although it’s great visiting old friends, nothing compares to the old days, when everything was new and unexpected. I’m old. I’ve seen and done it all. Right?

Wrong. Blast of Silence is a brilliant movie, so good it can make you fall in love again.

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Writer/Director Allen Baron is also the star of the film, playing Frank Bono, a lonely, disgruntled, hitman on a job in New York. Baron has a great mug, something like a cross between George C. Scott and Robert De Niro. It’s a New York mug. Bono approaches his profession with simplicity. He’s alone in the world and prefers it that way. In and out, that’s the way to complete a hit. Get to the city. Make contact. Purchase a weapon. Spot the target. Make the kill. Get paid and get out. But nothing is that simple. Try as he might, Bono keeps making choices that complicate the situation. He lets his feelings interfere with the job. He starts thinking too much, feeling too much. He makes the mistake of becoming a human being, and human beings have a hard time surviving in the world of murder.

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The title of the film Blast of Silence serves several analogies, the most obvious being a .38 handgun and silencer that Bono spends most of the movie trying to purchase for the hit. But the title also refers to the moment of being born and the moment of dying. The opening shot of Blast of Silence is nothing but blackness as the narrator, mocking Bono with his New York accent, guides the hero towards his destiny, poetically recalling the pain and anguish of childbirth, as a speck of light appears in the blackness which turns into the opening of a tunnel, until the hero emerges in Penn Station. It’s a great opening, fueled with Freudian angst and a contagious energy that never lets up.

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The cinematography by Merrill Brody (who also produced) is amazing. If you’ve never been to New York, simply watch this movie and you will feel you’ve been there. You can feel the cold of December. You can feel the wind and the rain. Brody uses the theme of the film to great effect, filling the frames with long takes of Bono walking through the streets of Manhattan, stretched out moving shots of Bono following his prey, or trying to get his head together.

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The narration may have been an after thought by producers since the film has so many shots with no dialog. The narration isn’t necessary, but it’s done with humor and isn’t distracting.

Blast of Silence feels like a French New Wave film, coming out in 1961 on the heels Godard’s Breathless [1959], and foreshadowing Alphaville [1965]. Blast of Silence is a must see for movie fans. A beautifully crafted film. The simplicity of its narrative, its character, images and theme, cuts like a switchblade but with the precision of a surgeon using a scalpel. Fallen out of love with movies? Watch Blast of Silence and rediscover why you fell in love in the first place.


James Bond: Quantum of Solace

July 14, 2008

The trailer for the new James Bond flick is out for Quantum of Solace and it looks like a Jason Bourne movie, especially some of the stunts and fight sequences, like when the camera jumps with Bond as he flies over a building on a motorcycle, very reminiscent of Bourne jumping from a rooftop through a building window.

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Make sure there’s an intense fight scene in a small bathroom or apartment.

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Middle-aged woman from his own agency trying to hunt him down? Check.

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Bond is a relic of the 50’s and 60’s. When they decided to revamp the series, they should have done period pieces and basically started remaking the movies. That’s what Bond movies are anyway, remakes. It’s always the same story, Bond chasing a bad guy and trying to kill him before the world is destroyed. In Solace it looks like Bond goes rouge and is hunted down by his own people, again, just like Jason Bourne.

Bond has been suffering from an identity crisis ever since Roger Moore left the series. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of Moore’s work. But at least you knew what you were getting with him. An old guy trying to get laid and try to kill some bad guys. I like Craig as an actor and he does fine as Bond, but he lacks humor. He reminds me of the T-1000 in Terminator 2 or something.

I guess I can’t rip on the movie since I haven’t seen it yet. But based on the track record of Bond over the past two decades, I think I can take a wild guess that it ain’t nothing I ain’t seen before. And probably done better in the recent Bourne flicks.


The Passion of Ayn Rand

July 10, 2008

The Passion of Ayn Rand [1999] TwoStars
Starring: Helen Mirren, Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Peter Fonda
Dir. Christopher Menaul

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I was thirteen years old when I read “Atlas Shrugged”. It was an adult book and I thought I was all that because I understood it. It was the same year I read “Catch 22”. I remember trying to read “Jaws” when I was eight and not getting it. But now at thirteen it was all coming together. You know that weird transition when you begin to “understand” the adult world? I was intrigued with “Shrugged” but not because of its politics. Even at thirteen, I new Rand’s philosophy was bullshit. In fact she dedicates an entire chapter to her social political ideals and I could only get through a few pages before I skipped the entire chapter, the chapter when her ideal man, John Galt, spits out Rand’s philosophy.

Anyway, it was the sexual exploits of her heroine, Dagny Taggart, that I found intriguing. Not only was Taggart (Rand) searching for the ideal man, she also seemed to be searching for the ultimate fuck. Rand is obsessed with the genius of men that can build big things like skyscrapers and railroads and rockets and shit. I mean, how fucking Freudian can you get? Although I’m offended by her philosophy, her journey as an artist is interesting. She seemed to do the same shit her male contemporaries did when it came to her art. She would do just about anything to get the art accomplished. She came up with a philosophy that rationalized her eccentric behavior in order to get what she wanted, which was to get laid and to do her art. That’s the real philosophy of Rand. “How do I get some cock?” and “How do I finish my book?” What she understood is that she could not accomplish one without having the other.

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“The Passion of Ayn Rand” is based on a book by one of Rand’s disciples, Barbara Branden. Rand is played here by the remarkable Helen Mirren, and as usual her performance is spot on. Barbara (Julie Delpy) and Nathaniel (Eric Stoltz) are two young admirers of Rand’s who take a journey to meet their idol. They’re surprised when Rand takes them under her wing. Eventually Rand and Nathaniel, twenty-five years her junior , begin to have an affair, but it’s not a secret one. In fact Rand and Nathanial ask for their respective spouses permission to fuck each other, three times a week. Both Barbara and Frank O’Connor (Peter Fonda) agree to the bullshit scenario. According to Rand’s philosophy, this fuck-fest was all based on logic. Nathaniel is her intellectual equal, therefore it was only logical that she should allow him to throw a hump into her a few times a week, without Barbara or Frank getting all bent out of shape about it. Get it? Eventually Rand has major falling out with her disciples, when she discovers (at 60 years old) that Nathaniel (at 35) isn’t attracted to her anymore and has met a younger woman. Somehow Nathaniel not wanting to have sex with a sixty-plus year old hag didn’t seem logical to her.

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“The Passion of Ayn Rand” suffers from the same affliction most bio-pics suffer from, and that is, if the viewer doesn’t already know much about the central character, they won’t come out learning much about them in the end, or have any frame of reference on why certain transitions are happening or why they should care about them. But the performances are good, and the main theme of Rand’s artistic travails, the use of sex as an artistic aphrodisiac, and the hypocrisy of her “logic” is captured well. Rand was not an attractive woman, which makes her sexual prowess even that more amazing. She used her superior intellect to convince dudes like Nathanial and Frank to cough up the goods. In other words, Rand was a pimp. A true pimp controls a ho with the mind, not the fists.


Ciao! Manhattan

June 4, 2008

Ciao! Manhattan [1972]
Dir. John Palmer and David Weisman
Starring: Edie Sedgwick, Wesley Hayes, Paul America

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This is a weird one. I know technically Ciao! Manhattan isn’t a good movie, so I can’t recommend it. BUT. I like the movie. The story is a mess, as the filmmakers started the film in ’67 but had to abandon it after its star, Edie Sedgwick, disappeared off the face of the earth while filming. Once they tracked her down, three years have passed. They can’t pick up filming where they left off because the whole cast is scattered across America. So they start a new narrative, one that mirrors Sedgwick’s own journey, and mix it with the old footage from ‘67, turning Ciao! Manhattan into a semi-documentary/biography of the last years of Sedgwick’s life.

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I’ve never really been interested in the whole Andy Warhol scene, and have had absolutely no interest in Sedgwick. But her story is a sad one, and the film is haunting, because Sedgwick actually seems to have some real acting talent, and a fearless spirit that the camera adores. A young woman of the 1960’s who has been trapped in a drug induced purgatory for several years, with faint glimpses in her eyes of the hope of escaping. She finally did in 1971 when she died of an overdose before the world premier of the film.

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What makes Ciao! Manhattan work, despites some of its awkward technicalities, and amateurish acting, is its raw emotional center and genuine urgency. It documents, in a hellish quality, both Sedgwick’s own personal nightmare, and the strange transition between 1967 and 1971, when rock turned into heavy metal, weed turned into cocaine, and hippies turned into Hell’s Angels.


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